As the Grenfell Tower Inquiry (GTI) sits for two days (11-12 December) to determine its terms of reference on how it will take evidence from witnesses and participants, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has expressed concerns about a member of the GTI expert witness panel, former Chief Fire Officer (CFO) Steve McGuirk.
The former CFO for both Greater Manchester and Cheshire is too closely associated with the running of the fire service, say the FBU, as well as being a known ‘moderniser’. McGuirk was a key player within the service when it was taken apart, with service fragmentation leading to the abolition of the structures that protected its high standards. As a result, it is less able to provide a fast, fully crewed, professional response to fires and other incidents.
McGuirk was also a member of the then Chief Fire Officers’ Association’s Presidential team, which advised central Government on safety issues that are now being put under scrutiny. Both he and panel member Joyce Redfearn, a retired Clark to the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Authority, were also Deputy Lieutenants for Greater Manchester – these links were not disclosed when the GTI panel was announced.
Matt Wrack, General Secretary for the FBU, said:
“It is alarming that someone who has basically supported cuts to the fire and rescue service, who thinks for example that sprinklers are a replacement for a fully funded service, is going to be on the Grenfell Tower Inquiry panel as an expert witness. We need someone who supports much needed investment into the diminishing fire and rescue service. Instead we have a former CFO who has effectively agreed that cutting jobs and fire engines, and closing down fire stations, is justified – he has said as much. To place him on the panel of an inquiry into the worst fire since WWII, during which the availability fire service resources will inevitably be explored, is irresponsible to say the least.”
The FBU complained about the appointment of Steve McGuirk, and the inquiry as a result have promised the union the opportunity to robustly challenge his evidence. The FBU has also sought permission to instruct an operational firefighter expert to provide additional evidence, and to give an independent peer review of McGuirk’s evidence.
The FBU is seeking assurances from the GTI team that all of the appointed assessors and experts have been asked to declare any involvement in or association with companies that may have installed cladding or insulation windows to high rise residential blocks.
The union has in addition requested the opportunity to make submissions to help firefighters and control operators to give their best evidence during Phase 2 of the Inquiry. It has also asked that Phase 1 proceeds without further delay, and that it happens in tandem with the police investigation, instead of awaiting its outcome.
The FBU also asks that a venue for the inquiry is found as close as possible to Grenfell Tower so that as many survivors and witnesses can attend as is possible.